George Hebard Maxwell

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George Hebard Maxwell
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BornJune 3, 1860
Sonoma, California
DiedDecember 1, 1946
CitizenshipUnited States of America

George Hebard Maxwell was a recognized proponent of water reclamation and communal irrigation projects. In 1899 he formed the National Reclamation Association and 1902 along with Democratic Congressional Representative Francis G. Newlands helped pass the Newlands Reclamation Act. From the late 1890s to the 1940s Maxwell was a known public advocate for social causes such as support of farming communities, city and suburban gardening as a source of food supply, as well as environmental issues. He is considered to be "The Father of Reclamation."

Early life

George H. Maxwell (June 3, 1860 - December 1, 1946) was born in Sonoma, California to John Morgan and Clara Hebard Maxwell. He was a court stenographer before becoming a lawyer in 1882, living in at 2405 Prospect Street in Berkeley, California and working in San Francisco for the firm of a mining law specialist.[1] As a San Francisco Bay Area|bay area attorney he took on small farmers access to public water cases and was able to reopen and overturn the previous decisions against his clients.[1] After becoming the secretary of the San Francisco Merchants Committee, Maxwell worked with the The Salvation army raising funds for its communal agricultural experiment in the Salinas Valley. During the 1890s he was considered a leading San Francisco Bay Area advocate water development and cooperative rural improvement.[1]

Water reclamation proponent and lobbyist

In 1896 Maxwell attended the Fifth National Irrigation Congress in Phoenix, Arizona following which he ceased practicing law and moved to Phoenix to push for the Irrigation Congress to take a more active role in its political activities.[1] Specifically, advocating for the establishment of a press committee, increasing support from the business community, creation of a committee on legislation, and embracement of federal cooperation rather than of states and private organizations.[1] Three years later Maxwell expanded this movement creating the National Reclamation Association. At that time reclamation stood for irrigation projects that would reclaim arid land and make it habitable to be used by people and encourage Western settlement.[2] In 1902, along with United States senators Francis G. Newlands he became co-author of the National Reclamation Act. Under the act, construction of projects like dams were financed by farmers who were issued the arid federal territories and then made annual payments for the property and in turn financed the continuing operation.[1][3] By 1904 construction was began on 30 projects in 13 western states and 3 federal territories.[2][4]

During the next forty-three years Maxwell continued his commitment to public advocacy: He testified often as an expert witness. In 1924, for example, Maxwell testified before the Federal Power Commission against a proposed power plant on Diamond Creek in Arizona. In 1925 and 1926, he spoke before the Senate and House Committees on Irrigation and Reclamation about the influence the proposed Highline Canal would have on development in the lower Colorado River basin. In 1931 he addressed the House Committee on Agriculture about the relationship of flood waters to wildlife conservation. The most significant legislation he influenced during his later career was the Newlands River Reclamation Amendment to the Rivers and Harbors Bill of August 3, 1917, legislation which established a national flood control policy... In 1941 the National Reclamation Association named George Maxwell “Father of Reclamation.” [1]

Homecroft advocate

Soon after the passage of the National Reclamation Act, Maxwell became staunchly critical of how it was implemented, believing that instead of a social service it had become a money making enterprise, benefiting agri-businessmen, land developers, and local politicians. Consequently, Maxwell became the leader of "homecroft" a grassroots conservation movement promoting home gardening, and development urban "acre-culture" rather than dependending on agriculture and overtaking of wildland. During the 1910s many urban land developers adapted to these ideas, building suburban communities with an acre of land assigned to each property.[5] Before dying out in the 1920s, this idea was actively promoted and accepted in cities such as Chicago, Indianapolis, Springfield, Massachusetts and Dulith, Minnesota.[5]

Racist and Xenophobe

During his career Maxwell also became known for active promotion of xenophobic conspiracy theories - in his 1915 book Patriotism of Peace, Maxwell argued that the Colorado River needed comprehensive damming as otherwise its water would be utilized by Japanese imperialists that were colonizing Baja California.[5] He referred to Southern and Eastern European immigrants as Huns and Vandals preaching that they should be excluded from joining homecroft communities. Similarly he promoted policies such as California’s Alien Land Laws, which prevented Asians from land ownership.[5]

Maxwell died in 1946, leaving a complex legacy being a social and environmental advocate and at the same time prominent xenophobia lobbyist.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "The George Hebard Maxwell Papers, MG 1, 1903-1905". Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Bureau of Reclamation, A Very Brief History". Retrieved 2021-05-11.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. Newell, F. H. (August 12, 1911). "Reclamation and Home-making". Scientific American. 105, Issue 7: 144–145.
  4. The History of Large Federal Dams: Planning, Design, and Construction In the Era of Big Dams (PDF). US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. 2005. p. 95.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Boime, Erik. "Homecroft Cities: The 'Duluth' Idea In the Progressive Conservation Movement" (PDF). Minnesota History. Spring 2019: 203.

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